Conference competition starts for the University of Iowa wrestlers this week.
Competition for a few starting spots will be an ongoing process for the Hawkeyes.
Fans could get an indication of any possible lineup changes when third-ranked Iowa opens the Big Ten season tonight against Purdue at Bradley-Bourbonnais High School in Bradley, Ill., beginning at 6:30 p.m. The Hawkeyes host Michigan State Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, starting at 7 p.m.
The Midlands made the situations at 125, 149 and 197 interesting for Iowa (6-1).
“Right away we have quick turnaround at Purdue and then have Michigan State,” Iowa Coach Tom Brands said. “Then, we’ll know a lot more.”
The biggest question comes at 149 with Michael Kelly, Brody Grothus and freshman Brandon Sorensen. Both Kelly and Grothus have competed in duals, but Sorensen beat Grothus for third at Midlands, while Kelly failed to place.
Brands said that he handles pulling a true freshman’s red-shirt conservatively and that the coaches, the wrestler and his family must feel good about the decision. Sorensen displayed the skills the coaches like to see.
“We saw what he can do, what he is capable of doing,” Brands said of Sorensen, who beat Virginia Tech All-American Zach Neibert. “What we see in the room, we see that. We realize that’s why you recruit a guy like that. That is why you’re excited about the possibility.”
Grothus has climbed into the national rankings after Midlands, sitting 15th by InterMat. He is 15-5 this season, starting sparingly last season. He is listed in the probably lineup with Kelly, who wrestled in the Big Ten Championships two seasons ago.
His focus is on development and not on being the starter.
“I don’t think about that,” Grothus said. “I think about going out and continue to perform, building on what I’ve done.”
Grothus avenged a major decision loss to Edinboro’s David Habat, pinning him in the first period. He also knocked off Northwestern’s nationally-ranked and top-seeded Jason Tsirtsis.
“You always want to keep wrestling those guys,” Grothus said. “There’s no better feeling to go out and beat someone who has had your number.”
Grothus said he is working on head position and getting legs back, while Brands has seen more “scrapping” to win every position all the time.
“The difference is at Edinboro we’re not fighting positions,” Brands said. “We’re stalling down, guy’s going to us we’re giving up this and that without fight. Fight. Scrap. Battle. That is what he’s doing.”
The preparation will be the same, whether Grothus gets the call or not. He isn’t making proclamations for the spot, but will rely on his actions speaking louder.
“You have to earn these things,” Grothus said. “It’s never given to you.”
Thomas Gilman went from being second on the depth chart to 125-pound champion at the Midlands Championships with a win over Illinois’ defending NCAA champion Jesse Delgado and Jarrod Garnett, who beat Iowa’s Cory Clark in the semifinals. Clark had been the starter and ranked fourth before this week and now Gilman is ranked third by InterMat.
Gilman said “No comment” when asked if he should be the starter. The competition is motivation for the red-shirt freshman.
“It’s never a distraction,” said Gilman, whose title earned him Big Ten Wrestler of the Week honors. “It’s always in the back of your mind.”
Burak made his season debut and placed third, wrestling unattached. He has overcome a medical issue. Red-shirt freshman Sam Brooks, who was fifth at 184 at Midlands, has moved up to fill in well for the NCAA qualifier. Brands has been cautious with Burak’s return and has considered a red-shirt.
“I think there are some good things happening at 149 and 197,” Brands said. “The problem at 197 is you have two 184-pounders who are pretty capable. Lofthouse certainly solidified his spot. We have another guy that is capable.“We have an option (with Burak),” Brands said. “We have to make the right decision.”